Because We Love You

I remember the impotence I felt on the eve of the Gulf War in January 1991. No one could have known at that moment what a brief conflict it would be. We had every reason to believe that the Middle East would be hurled into turmoil. And if protracted war ensued, a draft would surely follow. I watched my college boyfriend sink into despair, with the help of a Bob Mould CD, at the prospect of being called to give his life for his country. I remained uncharacteristically mute. In the face of this battle, our positions were too unequal for my words or touch to console. I had listened to my male friends deliberate the legitimacy of the war-to-be and the potential for service deferment for some days. Though they were liberal-minded, it was clear that my views brought little to bear upon the situation. We were all people with big plans, but the plans of the women were shielded from the looming threat of life-threatening, wartime service. The potential of a male friend being killed, I was reminded, was nothing in the face of that man conceiving his own death. Experiencing such a dynamic compelled me to accept gradually the different situations of men and women in American society and under American law. Men and women used to be similarly situated to me and I was befuddled by, and unsympathetic to, many women’s seeming incapacity to assert themselves and achieve their goals in a purportedly male-defined world. But as I’ve worked in a professional climate of bravado, developed intimate relationships with men, and provided legal services to hurting women, I have come to recognize that the genders probably are distinct, and that the best we can hope for is harmonization. No Constitutional Right to be Ladies by Linda Kerber1 has further clarified my resolution of the age-old conundrum of whether women can be equal with, while distinct from, men. Kerber draws women as strong but different, ultimately resolving that the unique characteristics of gender should not be manipulated to undermine social equality. Women, she points out, have sought to contribute equally as citizens regardless of gender differences. Kerber sees the remaining barriers to parity, like women’s exception from conscription, as enduring from generation to generation. But by focusing on women’s assumption of constitutional obligations, Kerber renders an engaging historical framework for considering women as full partners in citizenship.